Art & Culture

Dear Madge, Given your longstanding failure to show any talent either as film actor or as film director, I don't know whether to admire you for your persistence, or point out that the cinema is not a medium in which you flourish. But I will say that even by your standards, this is a pretty atrocious film.

Some of you may recall a film released about  a year ago, in which a reluctant and stammering prince became king because his older brother decided he'd rather marry an American divorcee. That film did not showed David aka Edward VIII in a very flattering light, while Mrs Simpson came over even less well. With quixotic zeal, Madonna has decided to redress the balance. Unfortunately for her (and for the memory of David and Wallis), she is rather less good at her job than Tom Hooper, and almost no one will go and see this film.
As always, the problems start with the script. For reasons best known to them, Madonna and Alex Keshishian – the scriptwriters – have served the story up in two tiers. One part is a contemporary telling of the tragic love affair of the Man Who Wouldn't Be King, and the Woman Who Never Was Queen; on the other hand, we have a certain Wally Winthrop (a woman, incidentally), unhappily married to William Winthrop (When Willy Met Wally) in 1998. This unfortunate woman becomes obsessed with Wallis and Gromit, sorry, David, and spends her time at Sotheby's where a sale of their effects is taking place, and where she meets a cute Russian security guard who really sees her – unlike Willy, who just drinks a lot, and is having an affair.
OK, this is a big stretch. For those who want a film about 1936, having 50% of the narrative concerned with the dull doings of an uninteresting character is going to be a disappointment. And there seems no obvious reason for inserting this supplementary narrative, apart from allowing the film to bung in a good deal of back story and exposition. Otherwise, poor Abby Cornish (an excellent actress elsewhere) has to wander round looking moody and unhappy, while we look at our watches and wonder how long she's going to sleep walk through the film.
The answer is – way too much. Meanwhile, back in the 1930s, David is sacrificing his kingdom for a horse, sorry, for a wife, and it is the performance of Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson that is literally (and I do mean literally) the only reason to see this film. She is fantastic, and it is a tribute to her skill that she is able to rise so effortlessly above the surrounding dross. It's hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this film, but let's just say the music, the dialogue, the direction, the editing and the sense of dramatic tension. Apart from that, it's not bad.
We have Wallis dancing improbably with a black woman to the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant. No idea why. There is the scene where David travels to South Wales to see how the poor live, and is greeted humbly by a series of working class extras all carefully smeared with imitation coal dust. Does it not occur to Madonna that people would have made every effort to wash before shaking hands with royalty? There is slow motion, there is sentiment, there is a love of superficiality, jewellery, costumes and style which is, I suppose what Ms Ciccone regards as the essence of high living. And above all, there is mind-numbing dullness for nearly 2 hours. And of course there is the slapdash effort to make out that the snobbery and tendency towards fascism that distinguished the Duke and Duchess Of Windsor (as the couple became) was all a slur based on no solid evidence. They are tragic romantic heroes, and nothing must be allowed to sully their reputation, certainly not anything as irrelevant as history.
I guess there's no real need to put you off seeing this film, because it will disappear without trace very soon. But just in case you are tempted to spend any time or money watching it, let me urge you to resist. I watch this stuff so you don't have to.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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